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Spirochetes and salt marsh microbial mat geochemistry: Implications for the fossil record

Keywords: Sulfur cycle , spirochetes , microbial mat , EPS , oxygen detoxification , rock record , calcification.

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Microbial mats are synergistic microbial consortia through which major elements, including sulfur, are cycled due to microbial and geological processes. Depth profiles of pH, O2, sulfide, exopolymeric substances (EPS), and the rate of sulfate reduction were determined in an Oscillatoria sp. and Microcoleus-dominated marine microbial mat at the Great Sippewissett salt marsh, Massachusetts. In addition, measurements in spirochete enrichments and Spirochaetae litoralis cultures showed sulfide consumption during which polysulfides, thiosulfate, and presumably sulfate formed. These data suggest that spirochetes can play a role in the cycling of sulfur in these mats. The obligate to facultative anaerobic spirochetes may consume sulfide to remove oxygen. Furthermore, spirochetes may enhance preservation of microbial mats within the rock record by degrading EPS and producing low molecular weight organic compounds (LMWOC). Both sulfide oxidation (i.e., oxygen removal) and EPS degradation (i.e., production of LMW organic compounds) stimulate the activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), which are responsible for the precipitation of calcium carbonate in most lithifying mats.


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